A Little Fatherly Advice When the Going Gets Tough

Every player experiences slumps. It’s part of the process.

After graduating from college, I decided to get more serious about golf. I was a casual player throughout high school and college and was consistently shooting in the mid-80s.

There was a robust series of amateur tournaments in my area, and I thought it might be cool to play in some of them. I convinced myself that if I could just find the time to practice, I could compete against these old geezers in their 30s and 40s.

So much to the chagrin of my wife, I pulled the clubs out of my closet and started heading to the driving range once or twice a week with the occasional round on the weekend. My wife gamely played a few rounds of Par 3 with me in the interest of marital accord (and, I suspect, to really make sure I was going to the driving range).

After a few months of this, my scores did not get any lower, and I asked my dad for some advice. I told him that I had been practicing for several months and just couldn’t seem to get any better. He looked at me for a long time, then gave me perhaps the best advice I’ve ever received. “Lay off two weeks,” he said, “and then quit altogether.”

So I did. I put my clubs in the garage and played less than a handful of rounds in the 25 years since.

Stick with your Bankroll Strategy

For poker players, professional or recreational, dealing with slumps is a part of life. Many have done what my father suggested I do; quit. But most of us, from pros to recreational players, choose to keep grinding and keep buying in or depositing.

There are several keys to dealing with the inevitable struggles in poker. The most important is to establish some strict bankroll management guidelines and then follow them rigidly. For cash players, if you have a couple of bad weeks, you do not have to win everything back in one night.

Stick to your BM plan. You may want to consider dropping down a level, but under no circumstances should you move up a level in a misguided effort to win your money back quicker than you lost it. If you can’t consistently win at 10NL, there is no reason to think you are going to have it easier at 25NL.

Nor should you deposit more than your BM allows. If you put up $50 a month on a poker site for your hobby (about the cost of four lunches in a chain restaurant), don’t violate that if you lose the entire bankroll in the first week of the month. Stick to freerolls for the rest of the month and then deposit again after the month ends.

For low-stakes tournament players, don’t start playing mid- or high-stakes tourneys. Stick with what you are comfortable with. You may want to drop back and consider playing some low-level sit-n-goes if the MTTs are proving too tough.

Monitor your Play

The next thing you should do is pay attention to how and why you are losing. If you have a screen capture software, record your sessions and then watch them later to figure out what you are doing wrong.

Invest in a free or low-cost screen capture program and record your sessions. You can use the study time to recognize leaks in your play.

Are you chasing sets and flushes too much? Are you too aggressive? Are you too passive? Are you playing too many hands from an early position? Take some notes and figure out where your money is going.

I play mostly MTTs on-line, and after a protracted slump a few years ago, I started to monitor my play more closely, in particular, my position in each hand. I discovered a big leak in my game, I was playing way too many hands from early position and then folding to re-raises preflop.

In other words, I was throwing a lot of chips into the pot without ever seeing a flop. I corrected that leak and my results immediately improved. I started lasting longer and my in-the-money rate improved.

I do believe that position is the one concept that most beginning players do not understand. I had to watch myself on video to learn that a K-10 off in early position is not nearly as valuable as a K-10 off in late position.

Stay off the Tilt-a-whirl

One of the first lessons that you’ve got to learn is how to handle defeat. In a poker tournament, the ultimate winner is still going to lose the vast majority of hands. I liken it to the great hitters in baseball. Even a .300 batter makes an out 70 percent of the time.

Sergio Garcia has been known to play a few poker tournaments, but one hopes he can handle losing a bad beat better than he does when he hits a tee shot into the gallery.

Learning to handle your emotions is key. When you play a hand perfectly and your opponent hits a two-outer on the river, you’ve just got to put it behind you. If you let one bad beat affect your next hand or series of hands, you have compounded your losses.

In an earlier post, I wrote about some of the things you can do to try to avoid going on tilt. Don’t throw away four hours of solid play, plus a potentially significant payday, just because some numbskull with pocket 4s wouldn’t lay down for you and hit a set on the river. If you still have chips, just take a deep breath and begin the process of building up your stack again.

Fellow blogger Matt Vaughan has a great entry on why we stick it out through the slumps. Read that and you’ll understand that you are not alone.

Every player has slumps. It’s just part of the process. The key to dealing with a slump is to recognize that it is all part of poker. Call it variance. Call it bad luck. Call it whatever you will, but just don’t call it quits.

Unless you’re a golfer. Then it’s okay.

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